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Reviews Written by: alanp0099

Brother Ali - Champion CD EP
Brother Ali - Champion CD EP

Beyond the Shadows (4 stars), April 13, 2009

This EP arrived shortly after Brother Ali's critically claimed sophomore album "Shadows On The Sun", which is personally one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time. So nine new cuts from the self proclaimed Urban Norman Rockwell was greeted with open arms. As always, Ali is accompanied by Ant, who continues to amaze with a dynamic range of sound in his production.

While the quality of the material is very high here, and I do enjoy every cut, I'm not feeling every cut as a classic like I did his sophomore LP. That said, these cuts are definitely classics IMO: "Love on Display", "Self Taught" (my favorite), & "Rain Water". "Heads Down (You Haven't Done That Yet)", "Chain Link", & "Bad Ma Fu**a" are very close. Overall, it's very solid throughout with no real faults, even though I'm personally not feeling the remix of "Champion" as much as the original. Ali delivers the truth in the form of music once again, and this EP is definitely a note-worthy recording in his catalog. Highly recommended.

Brother Ali - The Undisputed Truth CD+DVD
Brother Ali - The Undisputed Truth CD+DVD

Brother Ali was born to rock the mic (4.5 stars), April 13, 2009

A long 4 years had passed between Ali's critically acclaimed sophomore LP "Shadows On The Sun" and his highly anticipated "The Undisputed Truth". 2004's "Champion" EP held fans over for a while, but fans like myself have been eagerly awaiting this release as if it was Rakim's second showing. Personally, I was a little nervous about the album living up to "Shadows", since that had become an all-time favorite since it's release.

Brother Ali has always represented the truth. And since the mainstream aspect of hip-hop favors fantasy over reality nowadays, Ali has chosen to push the realness of his personal life and everyday struggle to the forefront of his impeccably dope follow-up. Ant has also notably stepped up his game this time around. As seen with Atmosphere and other projects he's produced since Ali's "Shadows", Ant is definitely improving and growing as a producer as time moves on.

Ali & Ant simply reach new heights with this album. Therefore, my favorite cuts tend to be some of the duos greatest work in my opinion: "Lookin' At Me Sideways", "Pedigree", "Daylight" (my favorite), "Take Me Home", "Walking Away" (perhaps the most gripping way to give the middle finger to your ex-wife), "Faheem", & "Ear To Ear". The last two songs are dedicated to his son, Faheem, which may be two of the most gripping examples of 'the truth' seen here. The universal anthems "Truth Is" & "Uncle Sam Goddamn" surprisingly don't move me much, despite being very good songs. "Listen Up" is a nice banger for the most part, but is bogged down by a cheesy and generic chorus. Those, however are my only criticisms of the album, as it's very solid through and through.

Overall, Ali & Ant reached a lot of new heights with many cuts on the album, but it isn't quite as airtight and skip-free as "Shadows On The Sun" - which is completely flawless in my opinion. However, it's really up to the listener, as everything the man has created has been ridiculously solid. If you are a fan of Ali, buying this LP should be a complete no-brainer.

New MC (Kanser) - White Jesus CD
New MC (Kanser) - White Jesus CD

A Local Legend's Solo Debut (4.5 stars), April 13, 2009

Zachariah (aka New MC) is a longtime veteran of the Twin Cities hip-hop scene. In 1997, Zach, Unicus, Mesh, & DJ Elusive formed Kanser (with Ant from Atmosphere producing) and independently released their first cassette, "Now". Their second cassette-only release, "Network" was even more ambitious, which featured one produced cut by Ant (Mesh took over production duties at this point), and guest rappers such as Slug (of Atmosphere), Eyedea (of E&A), Oddjobs, Felix (of Heiruspecs), & Try-D, among others. Kanser released their first CD in 2000 entitled "Inner City Outer Space", and have continue to stay very active in Minnesota's booming hip-hop scene through present day.

Big Zach is the epitome of a local rapper - and I mean that in the best way possible. Zach tells a series of in-depth stories throughout this disc which touches on friends, relationships, parties, working at sub shops, inner city life, scoring college chicks, and many more tales of his personal life. Zach simply reps his reality and the people that inspire him. While Zach is by no means a mind-blowing rapper, he does have a very comfortable and unique sounding flow that boasts his personality and great songwriting more than his actual mic skills. And while Zach takes his craft seriously, he does not take himself too seriously as a person - which is honestly a refreshing trait in my opinion.

The production here is excellent throughout, and really drives the album nicely. Big Jess (of Unknown Prophets), Ant (of Atmosphere), 84 Caprice, Greg Buck KAC, & Dillon Parker all make this album a very cohesive listen. The vibes are fun, soulful, and playful, which never borders on anything abstract; which keeps those heads nodding. I truly like the album all the way through, but my favorites are "Cool J Planets" featuring Desdamona, "Sub Shops" (produced by Ant), "White Jesus" (maybe the best cut here), and the Big Jess produced "Emo Rap", which is my personal favorite and the perfect closer.

While Zach is mostly a product of his local scene, that does not mean his vision of reality would not appeal others. The material here is top notch for a 10+ year veteran in the game. The love Zach has for the game is simply immeasurable - this is his true life on display.

Kanser - Future Retro Legacy CD
Kanser - Future Retro Legacy CD

Kanser's Best Album Yet! (4.5 stars), April 3, 2009

Kanser is a hip-hop crew out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. They've been active recording material since about 1997. The rappers here are New MC (aka Zachariah) & Unicus. While they haven't made much noise in the past, their 2005 self-titled album boasted a great updated sound, which is when they really started separating themselves from the pack in my opinion. In 2008, they released "Future Retro Legacy", and it's easily top-5 material of '08, and one of my favorite Minnesota hip-hop albums, period. Much of this is thanks to the excellent production brought by veteran beat-maker Big Jess. He gave the album a beautiful, soulful sound that is arguably his best work to date as well. The chemistry this duo makes with Jess is simply unmatched in Kanser's entire catalog.

While New MC & Unicus are not mind-blowing lyricists, they are indeed superb songwriters, and have very nice flows. Tales of life, struggle, humor, relationships, friendships, and straight up braggadocio populate this variety filled disc of Minnesota hip-hop anthems. There isn't a track here I skip besides an interlude, and my favorites would be "Pleasant", "Coming Out Again (The Sunshine Song)", "Save the Day" (featuring AD of The Crest), "East Lake Lullaby", "Beaut-e", and the two songs Big Jess guest raps on - "We Don't Know Jack" & "Hands On My Time".

All in all, this album holds plenty of nation-wide appeal, and should not be pigeon-holed as just a "local" album. There are plenty of standouts and memorable material that will keep hip-hop heads spinning it for years to come.

Brother Ali - The Truth Is Here CD+DVD
Brother Ali - The Truth Is Here CD+DVD

The Truth? It's Right Here! (5 stars), April 3, 2009

I couldn't imagine a better voice to support Minnesota's thriving hip-hop scene other than Brother Ali. The quality he brings to the table each and every time out is simply astonishing. While Ali continues to grow as a lyricist and songwriter, Ant continues to make tremendous strides as a producer, bringing even more heat and impressiveness to this extended EP (which is 34 minutes in length). This duo holds the mass appeal that the mainstream aspect of the game truly needs. This is real hip-hop in it's truest sense.

Fresh off of his critically acclaimed sophomore album, "The Undisputed Truth", Ali picks up where he left off. Ali continues to grow as a person, and his music is a testament of his real life tales and struggles - the "truth" as Ali will continue to pound into your skull. He reaches listeners on a personal level, and this material is arguably his best to date, as I say with every Brother Ali release (even though "Shadows On The Sun" still my personal favorite). Ant's soundscapes continue to evolve with infectious funk, boom bap, and jazz flavored elements, among others. Every beat and lyric here is truly gripping in my humble opinion. My favorite cuts are "Real As Can Be", "Philistine David", "Palm The Joker", "Talkin' My Sh**" (my favorite), & the excellent closer "Begin Here". The DVD portion of this package is also very nice, which features a great concert at the legendary First Avenue club in Minneapolis. There is also a commentary track which is very interesting. Highly recommended to any hip-hop listener.

Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Mecca & The Soul Brother CD
Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Mecca & The Soul Brother CD

Smooth as Silk - 6 Stars, January 2, 2009

"Mecca and the Soul Brother" is one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever made. Screw hip-hop; one of the best, period. One could hardly believe that their sprawling 80-minute debut could hold as much promise and cohesiveness as these other reviewers state. Not a single cut or interlude seems wasted in it's entirety. If there were any album worthy of it's time, it's "Mecca and the Soul Brother". I've never heard such a deep and fluid emcee/producer connection as that brought to us by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth. C.L. Smooth reinvented what a lyricist is capable of. He brings new meanings to the terms reflective, introspective and conscious. It's amazing how well this record has aged. C.L. has qualities and stories that will sound as fresh as the day they were recorded 30 years from now. Pete Rock's production is beautifully lush and laid back. His production simply compliments the lyrics in an unmatched fashion.

Their style is similar to that of Digable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest and Gangstarr. The soundscapes are filled with jazz inflicted melodies, mellow samples and breaks, and LOTS of soul. That's really what makes this album stand out from the bunch. C.L. delivers so much heart, soul and sincerity, that it makes the whole record sound profoundly personal. Pete Rock blends these elements together flawlessly. A few of my favorites would be "Lots of Lovin", "Act Like You Know", and "They Reminisce over You (T.R.O.Y.)" featuring Heavy D. But you could almost ignore these "standouts" and pick your own. It's truly up to the listener, because the album is dynamite from front to back. If you're a hip-hop lover, missing this CD in your collection is like a jazz fan missing Miles Davis' "Kind Of Blue" in their collection. Don't sleep any longer.

The Grouch & Eligh - No More Greener Grasses CD
The Grouch & Eligh - No More Greener Grasses CD

Legends that will live on (5 stars), January 2, 2009

This is my first real exposure to Grouch and Eligh, and I'm already kicking myself for ignoring the Living Legends crew for so long. Pure and simple, this album is fantastic. Grouch and Eligh possess a ridiculous amount of talent in the way of lyrics and delivery. One of the most alluring points about the lyrics are the fact that they aren't filled with an abundance of 10-cent words and battle rhymes. They speak out on real life issues. They compliment each other's flows beautifully, which plays off the production in an untouchable fashion. In turn, the lyrics sound fresher, and the lyrical topics are packed with original ideas.

The best way to describe some of these tracks is gorgeous. "Everafter" has a seriously addictive loop that blends perfectly with G & E's seamlessly unstoppable flows. "Just For You" featuring Basik MC & Bicasso, with guitar by David Goodlett boasts some pretty exciting head-nodding production. "Mr. President" has some interesting political commentary (obviously left-wing). I enjoy this lyric from the Grouch - "I don't want to wake up to a bomb in my backyard / Mr. President, quit talkin' for me / I shouldn't have to be 60 and flat broke / The way it set up ain't lookin' out for we". One of the most beautiful tracks on the album is the title track - "No More Greener Grass" featuring Pigeon John. DJ Epik's production is bumping and soulful, which compliments the addictive chorus. "Emotion" also remains a favorite.

Overall, there isn't a wasted track in the bunch. To sum it up, the album is very accessible, contains addictive choruses and hooks, but still manages to keep that west coast underground feel. Everything here is far from abstract. Just real music and real lyrics from real artists.

Kid Koala - Some of My Best Friends CD
Kid Koala - Some of My Best Friends CD

Scientist Of Sound (4 stars), January 2, 2009

Kid Koala took the critics by storm with his exploration of using the turntable as an instrument like no other on his proper debut "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome". Since then, he's toured with the likes of Ben Harper, the Beastie Boys, Radiohead, and Bullfrog (as well as headlining his own shows). In addition, he's also worked with Dan the Automator and Deltron 3030 (aka Del Tha Funkee Homosapien) and Gorillaz. Not to mention he also released a 300-page comic book. For the most part, Koala dives into the leanings of his debut. In some ways, "Some of My Best Friends Are DJs" is better than his debut. He's found ways to expand his style and experiment in ways that even the converted will be shocked by. The soaring scratch melody of "Basin Street Blues", the exuberance of "Stompin' at le Savoi" and the enthralling "Skanky Panky" are arguably better than anything off of "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome". With that said, there is a bit less rhythm and unity here. A slight complaint would be that the music stops too much, and doesn't flow quite as well. But like his debut, repeat listening overshadows these weak moments with all of it's positive aspects. Overall, if you were a fan of the first record, this should definitely please you.

Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow CD
Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow CD

The NEXT level of hip-hop (5 stars), January 2, 2009

The next level you ask? Gift of Gab's impenetrably ill lyricism over Chief Xcel's beautifully lush production is something that I would call legendary, unique, and dare I say - untouchable. Gift of Gab definitely possesses a gift that may have you questioning the talents of your favorite emcee. He has endless capabilities as far as his impressive jaw gymnastics are concerned. His rhymes are jam-packed with metaphors, varying tones and rhythms, impeccable precision, and of course lightning quick speed. Like label-mate Lyrics Born, Gift of Gab redefines breath control. But Gift of Gab is quite a bit faster, leaving the listener in awe, and confused as to wear he actually fits a breath in his repertoire. In another respect, he doesn't drop sickly fast rhymes the whole time (which would actually get old). He experiments with his flow like a DJ experiments with their record collection.

This is Blackalicious' major-label debut, released on MCA. And if it sound more expensive than "Nia" (2000), there's certainly good reason for it. The title track sweeps the listener into tranquillity with the gorgeous sampling of "Me And My Arrow" by H. Nilsson. "First in Flight" shines with Gil Scott-Heron as a guest vocalist. It also incorporates elements that would prove to be more prominent in there later works (2005's "The Craft") - live instrumentation. The track also showcases some of Gift of Gabs most impressive skills on the mic. The streak keeps going with "4000 miles" featuring Chali 2NA (of Jurassic 5) and Lateef (of Latyrx) and some of Chief Xcel's dopest production. The guests have arguably never sound better than they do hear. The only thing that wears on me slightly is the repetitive chorus ("Muusiic"). The ?uestlove produced "Nowhere Fast" remains a favorite. Gift's personal lyrics and additional soothing vocals by Miho Hatori makes it a standout. "Paragraph President" also has a sweet driving beat to it, with DJ Shadow helping out a bit. "It's Going Down" is especially funky and soulful, mostly due to the sultry and sexy lyrics brought forth by Keke Wyatt. "Brain Washers" featuring Ben Harper came out a lot better than I expected. My favorite track has got to be the most impressive on the album - "Chemical Calisthenics" featuring Cut Chemist. The production is sick, fast and dead on just like Gift of Gab's incredibly fast, sharp and precise flows. Other appearances are made by Rakaa & Babu of Dilated Peoples ("Passion"), Jaguar Wright ("Aural Pleasure") and Saul Williams & the very tight Lyrics Born ("Release part 1,2 & 3").

Overall, this album is as close to perfect as you will hear from the thriving underground hip-hop scene. Although I must admit, many of these songs border on R&B, and several include choruses (a few of which are somewhat repetitive). Those are usually two things I try to avoid when considering underground hip-hop. But after listening to this album many, many times, I can honestly say there is nothing bad about those songs. They are executed beautifully, and for it's style and effect, it exceeds expectations and succeeds admirably. It sounds full of life, and the large budget doesn't hurt the albums overall effect or message. If you don't like R&B at all, there will be several tracks that won't impress you, or may get under your skin. It's a formula that very few have been able to execute properly, and Blackalicious makes it seem like child's play. It's a record that amazes and reveals more beauty with each and every spin. Definitely a keeper.

Ice Cube - Amerikkka's Most Wanted CD
Ice Cube - Amerikkka's Most Wanted CD

Ice Cube breaks away from N.W.A. in the height of their success (5 stars), January 2, 2009

If you ask this reviewer, Ice Cube's solo career remains the best of the N.W.A. collective (which included Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and Ice Cube). After all these years, "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted" sounds just as raw as the day it was released. The album dropped one year after the landmark album "Straight Outta Compton", and builds on the political and cultural commentary, bringing it to a higher level.

Ice Cube holds absolutely nothing back on his solo debut. His unapologetic lyrics touch on several topics; including street life, gangs, drugs, kids, a woman's place in the hip-hop world, and politics (among others). Standouts include the riveting title cut, the hilarious story-telling of "You Can't Fade Me", the enthralling production of "JD's Gafflin'", "A Gangster's Fairy Tale" where Ice Cube talks to the kids, "Endangered Species (Tales From The Darkside)" featuring Chuck D from Public Enemy, "Who's The Mack?", and the interesting commentary about a woman's place in hip-hop "It's A Man's World" featuring (female emcee) Yo-Yo.

Overall, those who thought Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" was the best thing to come out of the N.W.A. collective should check this out. If you think "The Chronic" is slightly overrated (like myself), you should definitely check this out. Don't be caught sleeping.

MF Doom - MM..Food CD+DVD
MF Doom - MM..Food CD+DVD

Hungry for rhymes? Look no further (5 stars), January 2, 2009

After the countless aliases Daniel Dumile has dropped on us since his comeback debut as MF Doom, "Operation Doomsday", the metal fingered villain has returned with "MM.. Food?" -- the proper follow-up to his debut from 1999. On the surface, this seems like a your average high quality Doom release, but it's really quite different than his horror movie alter ego, King Geedorah, or his other super villain monikers, Madvillain and Viktor Vaughn. Overall, it's a lot more fun and lighthearted than it's predecessors. Food references, a platter full of samples and a ton of well-picked clips from Fantastic Four read-along records keeps the mix fresh and boisterous. The man behind the mask is responsible for all of the enthralling production (aside from the Madlib-produced "Madvillainy" extra "One Beer"). Here we see MF Doom spitting far more rhymes than past efforts (unlike his two featured tracks on King Geedorah's "Take Me To Your Leader"). As usual, Doom doesn't disappoint.

There are a lot of people complaining about the 4-track dump of samples and instrumentals right in the middle of the album; some claiming that it's unplayable from front to back [...]. I for one think it's a quality jaunt of production that makes the record stronger; thus proving Dooms impeccable skills behind the boards. The standouts include "Hoe Cakes", "Potholderz", the Madlib-produced "One Beer", the Whodini-sampling of "Deep Fried Frenz", "Fig Leaf Bi-Carbonate", and "Rapp Snitch Knishes" featuring Mr. Fantastik.

All in all, "MM.. Food?" is definitely one of the most cohesive albums Doom has ever released, which will continue to reaffirm his status as one of hip-hop's most important figures.

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BELIEVE The Hype (4.5 stars), January 2, 2009

Easily the most highly anticipated underground hip-hop album of the year -- "The Mouse And The Mask" is a flawless record that succeeds at every turn. After the sampling of Danger Doom we heard on the Gorillaz record "Demon Days" ("November Has Come"), fans have been eagerly waiting for the duo to drop a classic. Well, the day finally came, and I'm truly a believer. The always-on-point MF Doom returns to the scene with the enthralling production of DJ Dangermouse. As you've heard, it's a concept album that incorporates the cast of several cartoons from Cartoon Network's [adult swim] series (which includes characters from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Brak & Zorak, Harvey Birdman, the cast of Sealab 2021, and Space Ghost). I originally thought that they would just take samples from these cartoon shows...not so. These are custom samples specifically recorded for this album, which really brings the concept full circle. Overall, the album is quite flawless.

The album starts off with a disappointment on "El Chupa Nibre". The song is excellent; but is rudely interrupted with bleeps from censoring. This song must've been recorded before they knew that they couldn't have a parental advisory album that's promoted by Cartoon Network. Thankfully, there isn't another *bleep* on the rest of the album. Which brings your attention the next track "Sofa King"; which leaves the listener puzzled as to how they got away with this lyric - "I am Sofa King Retard Ed" (say it fast). "The Mask" featuring Ghostface Killah from the Wu-Tang Clan, is definitely one of the best on the album. Dangermouse's production is equally enjoyable. The streak continues with the immaculate "Perfect Hair". "Benzie Box" featuring Cee-Lo and "Old School" featuring Talib Kweli possess something that most MF Doom songs don't - choruses. They work work very well to keep the album flowing. One of my favorites is "A.T.H.F" which boasts some hilarious samples from Meatwad and Karl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Doom spits some crazy wicked rhymes. My favorite track as of now is "No Names" which boasts one of my favorite lyrics - "As a few good men set sights to link with your chick / You have to find a new hen fight to drink your liq / Ten years later, see how Enzyt'll shrink your...wallet". As the album moves along, Doom just settles into the flow beautifully in the last half, bringing the best tracks to the table ("Crosshairs", "Mince Meat", "Bada Bing").

Overall, MF Doom and Dangermouse are in top form, creating something that will be a treasure in both artist's discography for years to come. At 40 minutes in length, the album is stripped of filler, and leaves the listener drooling for more (like most Doom albums). This is an album that is truly deserving of it's hype, and will please fans to great lengths. Definitely one of the best hip-hop album of 2005.

Quasimoto - The Further Adventures of CD
Quasimoto - The Further Adventures of CD

Stoned Immaculate (4 stars), January 2, 2009

This is my first outing with Quasimoto. After hearing the Madvillain album, I was totally enthralled by Madlib's unique and original production. I was also interested in Quasimoto's helium-voiced banter, and how it would hold up through a full length album. The results are definitely not what I expected; as it pushes the envelope much further than the "Madvillainy" album. The 26 tracks actually translate to nearly 60 grooves, skits, songs and interludes. Which means if you like or dislike a part, it will most likely pass within the same track. But there is an underlying theme to the whole album, and most of them are observatory under the influence of marijuana, among other things (see cut 19, "Shroom Music"). It's a parody of urban street life. Quasimoto appears to be a street-smart kid, spouting off his perspective on several things. Good examples of this would be "Bullyshi*", where he deals with bullies, or "Greenery" where he smokes and buys weed, or "Bus Ride" where he deals with a crazy cracked out panhandler. Some of this stuff is so crazy, it would seem that the Anticon label would be distributing this stuff. Where artists like Dose One and Pedestrian seem excentric and forcefully unusual, Quasimoto and Madlib hold stronger to their hip-hop roots. Not to say that it's all hip-hop; as several quirks of jazz, soul, funk and easy listening have been thrown into the mix. Make no mistake about it, this album is as pro-weed as any Cypress Hill record, and is probably most enjoyable over a packed bowl. But where the music brought forth by Cypress Hill was very lazy, sticky and stoned itself, Madlib shines new light on the same message. His music does sound stoned, but in a much dirtier, complex multi-element sort of way. Take "Players of the Game" for instance (one of my favorites); water splashes, zipper sounds, crazy tweaked out bells, soft soulful background vocals, and beat juggling turntable action. Tracks like that are just candy for the ears.

Although I very much enjoyed the adventures that take place throughout the album, I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't an exhausting listen. It's not easy to digest whatsoever. There are times where you just start to settle into a groove, and then poof, it's gone. But that's something I, and many fans of Madlib have come to accept (and expect). This is definitely on the cutting edge of hip-hop; musically, lyrically, and thematically. I would like to say that the balance of weird quirky elements and accessibility is perfect, but it's not really, thus the four star rating. I've listened to the album about 6 times, and it's still growing on me.

Madlib lives in the studio; that's obvious. Getting blazed and making music is his thing, and he does it very well. Music like this can be compared to Ween's "The Pod" (where they locked themselves cabin, inhaled lots of scotchguard, and made an album on an eight-track). It's an adventure in inspiration brought forth while under the influence of drugs. I know that seems harsh, but it's not something you hear everyday (at least this extreme). Madlib is on the forefront of futuristic production in hip-hop, and he's proven himself time and time again. Madlib is the epitome of originality. And originality is hard to grasp sometimes. So be patient with this baby.

Latyrx - The Album (re-issue) CD
Latyrx - The Album (re-issue) CD

An unprecedented masterpiece (5 stars), January 2, 2009

This has got to be one of the most overlooked underground hip-hop classics to ever be released. Which is quite a shame, since "The Album" is as sonically original as Company Flow's "Funcrusher Plus", which was also released in 1997. Both of these albums were amongst the most abstract hip-hop albums to hit the scene, which brought avant-garde experimentalism to hip-hop (i.e. Definitive Jux, Anticon). Lets start with the extraordinary cast. Lyrics Born (a.k.a. Asia Born, Tom Shimura), originally born in Tokyo, then moved to Berkeley, California; was the founder of the Quannum/SoleSides Records collective in 1992. DJ Shadow, also co-founder of SoleSides Records, was fresh off of his critically acclaimed 1996 debut, "Endtroducing...", and ready to turn hip-hop heads on their sides. Lateef the Truth Speaker, a new remarkable talent, made his debut on "The Album".

Contrary to popular belief, this album is not completely produced by DJ Shadow. In fact, Shadow only produces 4 tracks on the album. Label mate Chief Excel (Blackalicious) produces 2 tracks. Lyrics Born takes on the bulk of the production; coming to the table with 7 tracks. The highlight of the album is up for debate. The production brought forth is unbelievable, which sounds extremely fresh, even by today's standards. But one thing that Big Juss and El-P (from Company Flow) did not possess, are lyrical flows on the unique level of Lyrics Born and Lateef. Lyrics Born gives a whole new meaning to the idea of breath control. His perfectly annunciated flow is so fluid, it's almost baffling. Lateef, on the other hand, is quite a bit different. His flow is more menacing and outspoken, although very unique and coherent. The idea of your average hip-hop formula is completely pulverized here, making way for some truly adventurous material.

Moving on to the originality claims...The first cut "Latyrx" presents the most riveting production on the record. Lyrics Born and Lateef each recorded their verses separately. Each rap was split into their own audio channels (left/right). Since they are not interacting with each other lyrically, their raps are nearly impossible to comprehend, which doesn't really matter. Their flows mixed with the music creates a sonic texture of sounds that is utterly captivating. That's the most experimental track on the album, which turns out to be a nice choice since the album is filled with tons of variety. The album drives along through earthy trip-hop beats, ambient synth textures, as well as some jazz, funk and dancehall cuts. There wasn't anyone in hip-hop progressively using electronics the way these guys were. "Say That" is a welcomed change from the first cut, blending trip-hop and electronics well once again. "The Quickening (The Wreckoning, Part II)" by Lateef, is one killer track. His flow is captivatingly sweet, and since he raps alone here, it's easy to focus on him. Also similar to the previous cut, "Balcony Beach" features Lyrics Born, which is my favorite track as of now. The beat/rhythm is actually quite minimal, featuring soulful singing by Joyo Velarde. Lyrics Born's flow is real lazy and intoxicating; I love it. "Live at 90.3 '94" featuring John Tchicai and Free Association boasts some killer freestyle verses (which is more than I can say for the sound quality). "The Muzapper's Mix: Aim for the Flickering Flame/Rankin' No. 1" pushes the envelope nicely with another solid jam. Track 8, "Bad News", kicks off a funky set. It features a soothing funky piano loop and drum beat that backs Lateef's story rhymes quite nicely. The next cut, "Off (With) Their Heads (Be Prompt)" featuring Lyrics Born is also pretty funky, boasting a funked up guitar loop. "Burnt Pride" is a pretty sweet cut (and the longest). It features some pretty dirty and complex production (by Lyrics Born).

This is Lyrics Born and Lateef at their absolute best. And despite the big name backup (DJ Shadow), Lyrics Born produces most of the album, and provides the musical vision, as well as being the more distinguished emcee of the two. Nevertheless, this is a phenomenal debut for both of these mad talented cats. It is sad that only 14 other fans have reviewed this album besides myself. It will probably never receive the recognition it deserves. It also didn't help that the album was virtually non-existent for the first 5 years of it's release. I'm doing my part to change this, and I implore you to do the same. Because there's only one way to find out about great music like this, besides doing your homework on the internet. And that's word of mouth. Everyone I know is getting a taste of Latyrx, and they're loving it.

Nas - Illmatic CD
Nas - Illmatic CD

Nasty Nas takes us into the post-Chronic era of hip-hop (5 stars), January 2, 2009

What could I possibly say about "Illmatic" that millions of other reviewers haven't said already. Where do you start with an album that has been hailed time and time again, as the best hip-hop album of the 90s? It's a crowing achievement that Nas rests his reputation on comfortably. I was never into rap back in the mid-90s, so subsequently, I slept on this album up until 3 weeks ago. I finally decided to pick it up after I read an interview with one of my favorite [underground] rappers, Mr. Lif. He was grouping Nas "Illmatic" with classics from Public Enemy and BDP as some of his favorite rap albums of all time. I guess I never got into rap in the mid-90s because I didn't think it was all that great. I was never a very big fan of Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" or Snoop Dogg's work (although they undoubtedly have their strong points). Needless to say, I'm happy that Nas brought back the street poet aesthetic that hip-hop needed. Not that Nas is completely different from the bunch. He recruited the best jazz-rap producers in the biz, including Q-Tip, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, and Large Professor. The beats are strong, and Nas' lyrics are rough and tough. He really brings rap back to the hardcore street style of Rakim, Chuck D, and Gang Starr. Most importantly, Nas brands himself as a highly literate street poet. The lyrics are observatory reactions to everyday life. His outlook is more interesting than what a lot of emcees bring to the table. Without a doubt, Nas is an emcee's emcee. His fluid flow is nothing less than addictive ear candy for yours truly.

You will hear a lot of hip-hop heads going on about how 1994 was the year for hip-hop. I have never understood that. 1988 was the year for rap. But after hearing a record like "Illmatic", I can see where they are coming from. Although I can't honestly say that this stuff is more groundbreaking than Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, Ice-T, Beastie Boys etc.. I will say that Nas has made something that stands strongly next to those talents. But to think that this is more groundbreaking than some records from 1987 or 1988 is a bit ridiculous. Nas might have a state of the art flow, but the beats are hardly groundbreaking (not to say they're bad, because they're great).

Since rap moved it's way into the mainstream by the mid-90s, "Illmatic" was pretty successful on the charts. "It Ain't Hard to Tell" reached number 3, "One Love" and "The World Is Yours" reached number 6 and "Half Time" reached number 8. That's pretty substantial for a hip-hop record back then. But I would have to say my favorite cut would be "Life's a Bi*ch".

Nas came in at the right time to stir up the music industry. It was a positive step away from the Chronic-era that brought things back to brass tactics. I can fully understand why this album is at the top of every hip-hop heads top 10 list. But I have a bigger question. Who the hell is going to save us from the bling-bling era of rap. Seriously, is mainstream rap dead? If you ask me, yes, yes it is. It's sad that people hate rap because of the horrible reputation it's been given by artists like Cam'Ron, Chingy, Nelly, and countless other (c)rap artists. That's the way I felt until I discovered underground rap. Rap is still alive, and artists like Atmosphere, Eyedea & Abilities, Brother Ali, Binary Star, Company Flow (El-P), Mr. Lif, Edan, Latyrx, Lyrics Born, Aesop Rock, Sage Francis...etc are as real as it gets. And if you ask this reviewer, the new underground hip-hop brought forth by labels such as Rhymesayers and Definitive Jux is becoming just as influential as old-school hip-hop (late 80s). Don't give up on the genre, just give up on the mainstream aspect of it.

Edan - Beauty and the Beat CD
Edan - Beauty and the Beat CD

If The Beach Boys grew up in Compton... (5 stars), January 2, 2009

Psychedelia and hip-hop. Those are two words I never thought I'd be relating when referring to one of my favorite albums of 2005. I still can't get over it. What a phenomenal idea. The Boston based rapper Edan possesses more than just an untouchable flow. He's also the producer, programmer, engineer, sampler...you name it, he does it all. The production held within is bafflingly perfect. He's successfully brought the feel of a 60s psychedelic record to the form of hip-hop, including the concept. Clocking in at roughly 34 minutes (as most 60s psychedelic records run), there is absolutely no wasted space. This is an album of epic proportions that rides the line of psychedelia and hip-hop cleaner than you can imagine. It's almost puzzling that a hip-hop record including heavy influence of The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds", The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", or Pink Floyd's "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" would come off as such a cohesive set of gems. But it does, and Edan proves he's the man for the job.

The album's intro, "Polite Meeting Intro", starts it off with some music that could be from Sponge Bob Squarepants, then with the addition of trippy sound effects and vintage English vocal samples, we end up in The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine". It sets it off nicely. Then comes "Funky Voltro" featuring Insight, which includes a high-pitched swooping Minimoog played by Edan, and also a funky guitar sample. Then comes "I See Colours", a clear standout featuring a synthesizer played by Edan. Edan proves to have a impenetrable flow here, boasting some imaginative lyrics that work very well with the sweet atmospheric soundscapes and soothing 60s vocal and guitar samples. The next cut, "Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme", is also one of my favorites. Edan pays homage to some of the great innovators in hip-hop, including Run D.M.C., Grandmaster Flash Flash, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Nas and Ultramagnetic MC's among others. It seems that a lot of rappers tend to make an "homage" to old-school emcees, but Edan simply does it better by explaining "why" they were true innovators, which is much better in the eyes of this reviewer. "Murder Mystery" is a sweet track with some music similar to Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced" with that reverse rhythm, then cuts in with instrumentation that sounds like it could be from the old "Odd Couple" tv show. The next cut, "Torture Chamber" featuring flows by Percee P, speeds things up with a dirtier beat, orchestra string arrangements, and a background Pink Floyd sample from "Dark Side Of The Moon". Then comes the best collaborative effort on the album; "Making Planets" featuring Mr. Lif. Lif was actually the one who turned me on to Edan, as he was featuring on Lif's "Emergency Rations" EP and his critically acclaimed "I Phantom". The production is especially creepy here, as Lif jumps in towards the end at the climax of the song. "Time Out (Segue)" is a tripped out interlude that blends perfectly to the next superior cut, "Rock and Roll" featuring Dagha. Which features some cool crunching guitars in it's very memorable production. I also love this lyric - "My mental fabric / to big for Lenny Kravitz / Who imitates Jimi Hendrix in every facet". "Beauty" is up next. This song is really one of my favorites. Like it's title, the soulful production is beautiful. The addictive reverse rhythm, tight drum loops, and soaring flute makes it a huge standout. I also love this lyric - "I use pens like hallucinogens". It mixes beautifully into "The Science of the Two" featuring Insight once again. This is another one of my favorites (it just keeps getting better as it goes). "Smile" is one of the trippier tracks on the album. He couldn't have closed out the album better, than with "Promised Land", definitely a standout. It's got a very memorable production, and some sick lyrical spitting from the one, the only, Edan.

I see some people complaining about the short run time (34 minutes). I on the other hand, think it's perfect. There is so much filler in today's hip-hop (underground included), that it's nice to have 13 powerful, memorable, carefully crafted tracks to concentrate on. I've spent most of my teen years listening to 60s and 70s psychedelic records, along with a wide array of classic rock, so it may be a bit more intriguing to me than the next hip-hop head, but this stuff is truly unique. Edan may have been paying tribute to hip-hop's greatest innovators lyrically, but he's also paid tribute to 60s and 70s psychedelia in one of the most memorable ways possible; through hip-hop.

Edan - Primitive Plus CD
Edan - Primitive Plus CD

An Exceptional One-Man-Wrecking-Crew (5 stars), January 2, 2009

Edan is quite a rarity in hip-hop nowadays. You often hear about emcees complaining about taking on the bulk of the work (production and rhymes) for their muddled debut, which usually results in a collaborative sophomore release. That's not the case with Edan. He's better than most producers that only produce. His flows are untouchable by most emcees. And after hearing his new album "Beauty And The Beat", it's clear that he can also engineer with the best of them. So Edan can scratch, produce, and rock the mic; so what separates Edan from the other hip-hop acts out there? Let's start with the incredibly inventive production. First of all, it's very electronic. The space is filled with dirty 80s hip-hop drums, vintage and video game samples, tripped out noises and lots of dirty reverb. It's extremely thick and layered in arrangement, leaving the desire for multiple listens. It has a certain charm and uniqueness to it that will continue to draw you in. It's not minimal by any means, although it does seem fairly accessible. The production wouldn't work as well without Edan's exuberantly humorous and fresh personality. When listening to each track, it almost seems as if Edan has an everlasting source of inspiration. Each track sounds pristine in delivery. Edan also has something in common with the multiple personalities of Madlib. As Madlib darts out with his alter-ego "Quasimoto", Edan also tweaks his voice to sound semi-similar; at one point paying tribute to Kool Keith on "Ultra '88" (the Ultramagnetic MC's era), using his helium induced flow.

Another thing I'd like to talk about is the incredibly sweet artwork (also created by Edan). Back in the 70s, these robots produced by Quasar popped up at trade fairs, supermarkets, chat shows, and shopping malls all over the place. The owner of Quasar claimed that these were fully programmable robots that were capable of completing a wide array of household chores, and would soon be available at a reasonable price. He was soon exposed of his lies when a man with a remote control was spotted controlling the robot, thus proving that Quasar's claims were to good to be true. The artwork really speaks to the feel of the album though. Although Edan uses your basic primitive tools to create the album, it's also futuristic and ahead of it's time. Much like the robots by Quasar.

There are plenty of outstanding tracks here. He proves early on with "One Man Arsenal" that he's a force to be reckoned with. One of my favorite tracks, which features a piece of classical music (Tchaikovsky, I think) is "Key Bored". It also features some killer verses like this one - "My brain is packed with frames of accurate detail / I'd rather hug a tree than fu*k around with an e-mail". We get a nice view of Edan's humorous personality on "Emcees Smoke Crack" where he boasts this clever lyric - "Egg yolks in the eyes is how I'm doin' 'em / emcees smoke crack, I smoke aluminum". My favorite track on the album is "#1 Hit Record". The production is instantly memorable and truly addictive. It definitely includes some of the tightest verses and punch lines on the album. Check 'em out - "Silver Surfer on the cerebellum / MC's rhyme at the zoo and when they're wack, parrots tell 'em". Here's another - "Raw rap suburbanite / I'm fu*kin' with religion like I didn't wear the turban right". This is a great one - "The flyest on a 12-inch / So is your girl, and she doesn't make records". "Syllable Practice" is also one of my favorites, which features a cut up Cut Chemist beat (from Jurassic 5's "Quality Control"). Edan warns us ahead of time - "I'm not gonna say anything significant; you know, but it's gonna be battle rhymes. And it's gonna sound pretty." Mr. Lif stops by for a killer appearance on "Rapperfection". "You Suck" is probably the best track on the album as far the sick production and rhymes go. Edan proves to be a great story teller with "Run That Sh*t!". A story about how he doesn't work to make an honest buck, and just jacks people for their money, food, jewelry, etc. It really is quite humorous.

Edan pays tribute nicely to the great innovators of hip-hop, including Kool Moe Dee, KRS-One, Rakim, Kool Keith, Slick Rick, among many others. His style is actually very reminiscent of Kool Keith and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. I would venture to say that I've never heard such a bold example of a love for hip-hop. Edan's psychedelic hip-hop style is definitely one of a kind. It's not at all surprising that it took an English hip-hop label to release the record. He shouldn't have that problem anymore, since he's proved to be a worthy adversary to the masses with this incredibly fun and addictive masterpiece.

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A necessity for hip-hop enthusiasts, January 2, 2009

My first exposure to MF (Metal Face) Doom, was from his collaboration with Madlib, "Madvillain". I was very impressed with the album, but it left me wanting more of Dumile's engrossing mush-mouthed rhyme style. At my first impression, I thought Doom's flow was very old-school. Well, upon further research, I wasn't too surprised that he was first featured on the 3rd Bass single, "The Gas Face" (1989), under the alias Zev Love X (born Daniel Dumile). Zev made his debut with K.M.D. a couple of years later. So yes, there's a lot of history to the man behind the iron mask. Fast-forward to 2003, and you'll find the veteran MC in arguably, his finest form yet. And here he is under another alias, Viktor Vaughn (Victor Von Doom is Dr. Doom's real name in the Marvel comic books.) Doom's story-rhymes are very compelling and very gripping. In fact, the production brought forth by RJD2, King Honey, Heat Sensor, and Max Bill, is just as captivating as Doom's intriguing flow.

"Vaudeville Villain" paints vivid pictures of dark twisted city folklore, which is very reminiscent of Marvel comic book tales. The production sounds futuristic, yet classic. It's never overbearing, and always enjoyable. It's interesting, yet minimal, which keeps the spotlight where it should be, on Doom himself. It may take a few spins to fully digest Doom's unique flow; but it's a journey worth taking. There are actually very few collaborations with other emcees here (a plus). The ones that are included hold up very strong. The exquisite "Let Me Watch" featuring Apani B Fly stands out nicely. "Open Mic Nite, Pt. 1" doesn't feature Doom at all; but instead features the mad talent of Dr Moreau and Louis Logic's incredible battle rhymes. Doom steps it up on "Open Mic Nite, Pt. 2" where he takes down AJ Ready Wright and Creature. The record is filled with twists and turns that are sure to shock a few listeners, to say the very least. My favorites have got to be "Saliva," "Never Dead," the title track, and "Lickupon".

There really isn't a dull moment on "Vaudeville Villain". It's packed with great ideas, an innovative approach, ill production, and a enthralling old-school accessible feel. MF Doom has been a very busy man in the past few years, and experiencing the magic of this masterpiece makes me that much happier to know he is finally getting the respect he deserves.

Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek - Reflection Eternal CD
Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek - Reflection Eternal CD

Tighter than a photo finish (5 stars), January 2, 2009

I became a huge fan of Kweli after purchasing his collaboration with Mos Def, "Black Star". Kweli's impenetrable flow held my attention to it's fullest. After hearing "DEFinition", I knew I had been missing out on some true talent over the years. Without hesitation, I immediately snatched up this critically hyped record. With dangerously high expectations, I threw it in for my first listen, and I was simply blown away once again. Talib is quite the poetic emcee. While emcees and producers from labels such as Definitive Jux and Anticon are reprogramming the commercially suffocated genre, Talib is rejuvenating it with the basic raw elements, which is truly a breath of fresh air. As interested as I am in hearing a transformation of hip-hop, it's just as interesting to hear an expansion of the classic elements. And nobody does it better than Talib Kweli and Hi Tek.

Hi Tek has come a long way from the minimalist beats brought forth on the "Black Star" album. The beats definitely have a flair and style that are rightfully desired for a follow-up. And Hi-Tek proves to be a lyricist with this lyric on "The Blast" - "Going for the gusto, keep getting that provo / It's Hi-Tek (and Kweli) on the track like Flo Jo / Bet you ain't even know I had flow though". It's an exciting listen from the intro to the hidden gem at the end, "For Women". "Move Somethin'" and "Some Kind of Wonderful" are truly impressive standouts that will hook you for the full 70-minute ride. The latter features some of my favorite lyrics - "What's next? / These chicken neck MCs get me vexed / My rhymes be blowin' up chat rooms all over the internet". Other highlights include "Good Mourning" and "Too Late".

All in all, "Reflection Eternal" is hip-hop at it's finest. If skills actually sold the music, Talib Kweli would be one of the most successful commercial artists in hip-hop. But since Clear Channel runs the industry, I guess he'll have to settle for being one of the most critically acclaimed emcee's in hip-hop. Not that I'm complaining. Anybody who knows good hip-hop, knows that all the good stuff is underground. The prolific MC is definitely one of my new favorites. And you can bet I'll be checking out "Quality" (2002) and "The Beautiful Struggle" (2004) after hearing this fine masterpiece.

Madvillain - Madvillainy CD
Madvillain - Madvillainy CD

Topsy-turvy on the surface, but dig deeper... (4 stars), January 2, 2009

Like many of you, this was my first outing with MF Doom and Madlib. If you did your research, you would find that the two are highly respected in the world of [underground] hip-hop. MF Doom (aka Zev Love X) has a history dating back to 3rd Bass' "Cactus Album" from 1989. Madlib also made his debut in 1989, featuring work on The Beastie Boys' "Paul's Boutique" album. Between the two of them (under several aliases), they've appeared on more than 8 albums throughout 2003. Then, in March of 2004 they dropped "Madvillainy" on us. Doom isn't a stranger to twisted mythical tales about super villains. Add Madlib's cut-up orchestrated beats, and you get a duo that fits quite well together. On the surface, I'm sure plenty will call this collaboration a cluttered mess. I know that's what I thought at my first listen. But like many great [underground] hip-hop albums, it reveals itself to be so much more. Upon further listening, my respect for Madlib has been building for his complex "choppy" beats. He merits respect just for having the guts to make something that could be misconstrued as being poorly produced. Through further listening, you can tell he spent some major time digging and crafting these beats to (near) perfection. It's a unique and wild ride (two things I love).

Each track sounds like the setting of a comic book or a cartoon; although the addition of several movie samples from the 1940's adds to the cinematic feel of the album. The magic is found through the tight relationship Doom and Madlib have with each other. Some tracks sound like rough experimental obtuse projects, while others are very minimal and straight-ahead. For instance, "Accordion" features a very lazy accordion loop, while Doom drives quickly through his killer verses. Other tracks catch a great mix of accessibility and complexity, such as the pro-marijuana flavored "America's Most Blunted" featuring Quasimoto's helium induced flow. Tracks like "Raid" and "Meat Grinder" work very well in their non-traditional hip-hop sense, while tracks like "Sickfit" and "Rainbows" feel like their taking a nap after the climax of "America's Most Blunted". Some people might think, "What the heck are they doing?", but upon a "full" listen, the album reveals itself to be very worth-while. Latter tracks like "Figaro" and Wildchild's battle rhymes on "Hardcore Hustle" stand out nicely. Although one of my favorites is the 20th cut "All Caps".

After a few listens, the mix is still a little awkward to listen to. But with each listen, many of those feelings are stripped away. Until you get to a point where you can appreciate the skills brought forth in there experimentation. I won't lie though, it's not perfect, but it's dam* good, and definitely worth owning. Madvillain may not live up to your initial expectations, but it's surely a step in the direction that a true hip-hop head will appreciate.


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